It seems every day we are faced with new SEM opportunities from MSN, Google, Yahoo, Ask, and, shortly, AOL. With demographic and geographic targeting now available, quality scores to consider, the long tail, copy and landing page tests, and increasing bid rates, where does one begin? If someone was already familiar with the concepts of paid search, how would you really help them get started?
It should be no surprise that there are many ways to set up a campaign. I am surprised by how few agency/vendors lay the proper groundwork to develop a good search program while even the engines fail to provide the support that transforms a good paid search program to a remarkable and invaluable marketing channel.
There are only 4 things that every search manager should consider before setting up keyword lists, bid strategies, and copy. Consider this, and you are running on a better footing than probably 90% of keyword buys today.
- Track something
- Determine the value of what the program delivers
- Structure your program (notice I’m not calling your paid search activity a “campaign”)
- Run it 100% of the time
Simple huh? It isn’t as easy as it sounds but those 4 topics are the foundation of a successful search program.
As Interactive Marketers, we’re all blessed that everything we do can be tracked, reported, and documented (yes, that is a good thing). Direct Marketers spend a significant part of their time modeling performance, managing focus groups, and running studies to determine the effectiveness of their effort. Online, that’s already done, allowing you to think past that burden to optimization, management, and efficiency. But in order to do that, you have to track something.
Call your search vendor and tell them you need to learn about tracking; your options AND the scripting technologies. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you have to be selling something to track; I didn’t say “Track sales,” track something: white paper downloads, registrations, newsletter requests, signups, AND sales. Track any activity on site that influences your bottom line.
You don’t need to be technologically inclined nor even have the resources to set up tracking. You want to understand how it works as that understanding helps explain the benefits and ease of implementation. With that, acquiring the resources to enable tracking, and explaining the value of your search program to acquire funding is all but done; your program sells itself.
Determine the value of what the program delivers
If online marketing weren’t alien enough for traditional marketers, where I find we really lose them is in communicating the unique value of Paid Search: Paid Search is a performance based program. You SHOULD only pay what works relative to the performance driven. Sure, arguably, all marketing activities are managed that way but Paid Search is the only activity in which that is done automatically (assuming you read and completed step 1). We didn’t just set up tracking for the sake or reporting effectiveness, building a case for a larger budget, or accounting for volume, you are tracking because bid engines can interpret that performance and adjust bids accordingly, ensuring that you always deliver to a defined objective.
Want a 20 to 1 ROI? Done. Want 50 to 1? No problem. I guarantee it (practically). Paid search can automatically adjust bids to manage performance and deliver a Return of any kind On your Investment.
What is a white paper download worth? As a marketer, your job is not merely to drive traffic to the site (your shareholders or stakeholders really don’t care if you drove 300% more users to the website or maintained 2nd position in search results). Traffic, in and of itself, is worthless. If you are satisfied with basic paid search reporting and think tracking clicks and CPC (cost per click) is sufficient, you are fooling yourself (or you are fooling your boss). You are either leaving money on the table or overspending. You are inefficiently managing the program.
Most companies set the value of activities based on their impact to the bottom line. Revenue. A white paper download can be correlated with IT or Enterprise sales. Requests for information about service can be associated with how much money you are making from that service. In both cases, you have valued that activity. Here’s how:
1 in 100 customers requests information about my legal service. But only .1% of those solicit my business at $1000. I’m going to need 1000 clicks to get one new client who will pay me $1000. Does that mean I’m willing to budget $1000 to get 1,000 clicks? No, I have other costs to consider and now I can value what my program delivers, 1000 clicks = $1000 in revenue.
For the sake of argument, my profit margin is 50% so I can now choose to spend $500 dollars to get 1,000 clicks or a max bid of $.50. That’s a 2 to 1 return; practically, guaranteed.
Ah! the beauty of Paid Search
I will always get that 2 to 1 return if that’s the objective I’ve set. If you want more volume (greater reach) we adjust that objective to allow the model to bid more aggressively, perhaps a 1 to 1 return which will bid twice as much. Our ROI goes down but reach, traffic, and revenues go up.
As I hope you can imagine, this works best with a flexible budget to respond to volume and performance. But if the guaranteed ROI is the beauty of search, the ever improving performance is its more beautiful step sister. Consider that your website is always changing, conversion rate always increasing (I hope) and your company is constantly working to improve profitability. Over time, performance improves. Being a performance based model, your search growth will outpace the number of customers using search as your budget allows you to acquire a higher position and/or greater share of the search volume.
Have you caught on now to why CPC and position don’t matter? Fundamentally, those numbers don’t provide much value. Paid Search is one of few marketing programs with which you can ensure a return on your investment. What does it matter what cost per click you pay?
Structure your program
Now that you can prove performance AND manage search to a specific objective. Organize it. But first, let me make the distinction, to which I’ve alluded, between “campaign” and “program.” A campaign is a specific marketing initiative, a rebranding, a new opportunity, or an offer you want to communicate. That campaign needs to be put somewhere if it is to reach anyone. Paid Search is merely one of those outlets and it is important to organize and structure your paid search program to create a platform that is manageable and consistent. Your paid search program becomes a foundation with which, essentially, all things are equal and onto which you place campaigns; it is where you put your that new campaign to reach someone, not the campaign itself.
Without structure your various messages and promotions run with different objectives or inconsistent support. Setting up each campaign as a unique initiative (a new or unique ad group), you lose the ability to truly evaluate effectiveness, optimize, reallocate budgets, and refocus attention based on performance.
Think of TV advertising as a model against which to compare this concept. Advertisers know what a commercial on ABC’s Lost costs and that those commercials will always run in the same time slot, reaching roughly the same demographic every show. That’s their baseline, their foundation. They can now run different campaigns, different commercials, on that same foundation and easily compare how commercial A performs relative to commercial B.
In Paid Search, if your approach to management is to put together a list of keywords, some copy, and a budget to run for 2 months, you have no foundation; you’ve approached the opportunity from the commercial’s perspective, not the fact that your ads could always run on Lost at 9 pm. You have copy that you want to run and that copy should run on various keyword groups which are organized with some semblance of consistency so that over time, you can evaluate how each group of similar terms performs, remove the copy from where performance suffers and add funds where it excels.
How about an example?
Snickers, should NOT just decide to run a keyword campaign to support their “Kiss” commercial
Mars, Inc. should already have a search program in place with Snickers and candy related keywords structured something like this:
- Candy Bar keywords
- Snickers brand terms
- M&M brand terms
- Chocolate keywords
The Kiss campaign’s copy would then be added to keywords in this structure enabling Mars to compare the performance of that campaign among customers searching different, related topics (ad groups).
Unfortunately for my example, as I find is usually the case with good opportunities, neither Mars nor Snickers even ran a search campaign though they had something as prominent as a SuperBowl commercial. Get in the game, structure a keyword program and…
Run it 100% of the time
Seems obvious now doesn’t it? Not only could Mars have easily compared how that campaign performed between structured ad groups (different audiences and themes), but had they been running those keywords all the time, promoting something else before this campaign, they could immediately tell how customers react to the Kiss vs. something else.
How can I run 100% of the time, I hear you saying, when my budgets are limited?
Realize 3 things:
- Since the program is performance based, there is no reason not to promote everything. You have a guaranteed return (and keep in mind, when I say that I mean “essentially” guaranteed)
- As your foundation in search, the program requires history, stability, and consistency
- Consumers are online 24 hours a day, you should have all your products and services available to them; don’t miss an opportunity by not being there
But that doesn’t answer how you run 100% of the time with a limited budget.
Well, you do and you don’t. Intentionally.
Managing search on a performance basis while running all the time means you won’t have 100% share of voice unless you have the funding to do so. You will have a profitable program supporting everything someone might be looking for with valuable insights to help you optimize effectiveness. But that budget may not allow you to acquire all the searches or the most prominent position you want. Instead, you will deliver to your ROI on all relevant keywords to as many searches as your dollar affords.
The budget no longer determines what you do (how you bid) but how many customers you reach. Budget limitations identify the missed opportunity for your stakeholders and the opportunity for you, “Now Boss, at that ROI, we only get 20% coverage so we aren’t showing up 80% of the time; I suppose you want to tell [Insert your respective SVP]
Track your program, manage it efficiently, effectively, and run it all the time and the rest of the work falls into place.